America's veterans embody the values that stand at the heart of rural America: hard work, a love of country, and a sense of duty to give back to the land that has done so much for us all.

Rural America disproportionately sends its sons and daughters to serve in the military. Some, but not all, of these individuals come from a farming background. Yet an increasing number of veterans are pursuing careers in agriculture because they believe that working on the land helps them successfully transition to civilian life, gives them purpose, and enables them to continue serving their community and, often, other service members.

When service members return home, we want them to know that rural America has a place for them and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has tools and resources to help them follow their dream of starting a farm or ranch business — no matter where they're from.

As part of that commitment, USDA has just announced an expanded collaboration with the Defense Department to better reach every single one of the more than 200,000 service members who leave the military each year with the training they need to start their own farms or ranch businesses. Regardless of their experience level, USDA offers a wide variety of loans, grants, training and technical assistance to veterans who are passionate about a career in agriculture.

This partnership with DoD is part of USDA's overarching commitment to ensuring that all veterans know about the many ways USDA can support military veterans and their families, from farm loans to conservation programs to nutrition assistance to rural rental housing and home ownership opportunities.

We've seen an overwhelmingly positive response to USDA programs from veterans thus far, but our goal is to further expand the impact of these programs. Since 2009, USDA has provided $438 million in farm loans to help more than 6,482 veterans purchase farmland, buy equipment and make repairs and upgrades to farm businesses.

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Our microloans, which offer smaller amounts of support to meet the needs of small- or niche-type farm operations, also have grown in popularity among veterans. Since its launch in January 2013, USDA's microloan program has provided more than $22.6 million in support to help 1,083 veterans grow their farming businesses.

For example, in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, James "Buck" Holsinger returned to his ninth-generation family farm after two tours in Afghanistan. Buck used assistance from USDA to make Holsinger Homeplace Farms more efficient and sustainable. Buck is now a model steward who has installed conservation practices on his home farm and rented acres through the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and also enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program.

And in Jacksonville, Florida, Adam Burke, an Iraq combat veteran, as well as a Purple Heart and Presidential Citizens Medal recipient, founded Veterans Farm, a 19-acre handicap-accessible farm that helps veterans learn how to make a living from farming and find healing in the land.

USDA has partnered with Veterans Farm to conduct quarterly training workshops to connect veterans with resources that can plant the seeds for their new agricultural careers. Adam was selected this year as a top 20 finalist in the country to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor Society Citizen Leadership award for his work with fledgling veteran farmers.

Every day, the men and women of our military confront and triumph over those who threaten our national security in order to keep us safe. Many have sacrificed dearly in service to their country. When they return home, USDA wants them to know that whether they grew up there or have relocated there, rural America offers tremendous opportunity for veterans to start or expand a small business, get into farming or ranching, buy a home and raise a family — to pursue their version of the American dream, whatever it looks like.

I would personally like to thank our military veterans for their service and dedication, and to assure them that USDA stands proudly alongside those who have served. We are working to deliver the very best service to our veterans and encourage them to consider a career in farming. To learn more, visit

Krysta Harden is deputy secretary of the U.S. Agriculture Department.